3-D Audio in the Fighter Cockpit Improves Task Performance

J. A. Veltman , A. B. Oving & A. W. Bronkhorst (2004) 3-D Audio in the Fighter Cockpit Improves Task Performance, The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 14:3, 239-256, DOI: 10.1207/s15327108ijap1403_2

Things I considered worth of notice in this paper:

– This is a TNO research paper. Among many other things, TNO is an amazing research center on Human Factors in Traffic, Aviation, etc.

– Results show that pilots can perform flight and in-cockpit tasks more efficiently when supported by 3D audio.

– 3D sound and 2D visual display were the better combination (a common finding).

– They’ve used RSME – Rating Scale for Mental Effort by Zijstra, 1993. I’ve never heard of it, but that should change asap.

– There’s a summary of results organized with bullet points!


The introduction mentions how previous studies have managed to detect changes on the amount of time spent on visual search when using 3D audio and mono audio. The decreases with 3D audio were between 8 and 47%. Also, other research has found that a combination of a visual head down display and a 3D audio display resulted in faster detection times. All in all, there seems to be a tendency to verify that pilots scan head down displays less frequently when these are supported by 3D audio.

However, no differences have been found when 3D audio only or 2D visual only were used and compared. These results made the authors conclude that maybe 3D audio is an equal alternative to visual head down displays. Which makes me wonder if such a conclusion can be taken after these results (are they really equivalent?).

The goal of this study was to analyse the effect of 3D audio on the visual scan behavior of pilots; to see if the 3D audio reduces workload or if it is redistributed to other tasks, thus improving their performance – for this physiological ans subjective measures were captured; and, finally, to verify if two audio sources presented simultaneously had any effect on the performance and workload of the participants.

The tasks were rather complex, and I will not detail them here. All participants were trained pilots, and the tasks were made in a simulator. They performed two primary tasks: intercept and pursuit; and two secondary tasks; one at the head-up display and one at the head-down display.

In the intercept task participants had to locate a target jet that appeared somewhere around the ownship jet; In the pursuit task participants had to follow another aircraft at a target distance of 1,500 feet. On the HUD task three dots were presented at the top and participants had to detect when all three dots became red; On the HDD task participants had to monitor the position of a virtual object.

Results showed that:

-Participants could follow the target jet better when 3D audio was present for the secondary HDD task

– Participants responded faster to HUD tasks when intercept task was supported by 3D audio

– Frequency of vertical eye movements decreased about 50% when participants were supported by 3D audio in the intercept task. On the pursuit task, the reduction was of 60%

– In general, 3D audio didn’t improve for the intercept task, but it did for the pursuit task

– 3D audio improved performance in HDD task but only in combination with pursuit task.

– Participants reported lower effort investment in the pursuit when HDD was supported by 3D audio.


So, 3D audio didn’t improve primary task performance, however, results demonstrated circa 50% decrease of looks at the HDD. They used 3D to perform the intercept task without degradation in performance, which means the participants could fly more head up, and they could pay more attention to the HUD, thus improving their performance on the HUD tasks. This result demonstrates how the workload is not reduced, but it is redistributed. Also, physiological data did not show differences between conditions, but participants mentioned on their subjective ratings that the effort was reduced with 3D audio.

About the third goal of the study, it was verified that pilots can process and use two different sound sources simultaneously.

The study ends mentioning that “further research is required to investigate the type of cockpit tasks that can be performed adequately when 3D audio is available only”.

Ideas, nham nham. I wonder if these results are “transplantable” for the automobile. The literature on 3D sound inside ground vehicles is still scarce.




One comment

  1. Pingback: Monitoring the simultaneous presentation of spatialized speech signals in a virtual acoustic environment | Future Scientist

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